February 2017

357 Magnum Personal Defense Loads: Black Hills Is a Best Buy

The company’s 125-grain JHP comes 50 rounds to the box at an attractive price, exhibits modest recoil, and maintains near-ideal penetration with good expansion and 100% weight retention.

357 Magnum Personal Defense Loads: Black Hills Is a Best Buy

With dedication and practice, the 357 Magnum is a formidable handgun with an excellent track record in personal defense.

When it comes to the 357 Magnum cartridge, the consensus is the round is a great performer. The cartridge has taken deer, bears, and even larger game. However, the rub is that these exploits were made with larger revolvers, often with barrels of at least 6 inches. When it comes to personal defense, most folks are going to carry a 2-, 3-, or 4-inch-barrel revolver. So, for those shooters who prefer the wheelgun, the Magnum needs to work in a shorter barrel.

The slow-burning powder used in Magnum loads is often a canister grade of Winchester 296 or Hodgdon H 110. This powder develops its power and velocity from a slower burn. Purpose-designed defense loads must use relatively faster-burning powder, usually a powder in the middle range. Another problem with accuracy and consistent performance is bullet pull. The lighter bullets used in defense loads often do not show as consistent a powder burn as heavier bullets, and this limits velocity with 100- to 110-grain bullets. However, makers such as Cor-Bon seem to have perfected a loading process that has solved many of the problems with bullet pull and have even gotten a consistent powder burn in short barrels. More pertinent in recent years, the Magnum has been downloaded. In present form, SAAMI specs restrict 357 Magnum pressure levels to about the same as 9mm +P+ loads.

When you consider the flash, blast, and recoil inherent in the Magnum cartridge, the question must be asked: Is the 357 Magnum the best choice for personal defense over other revolver cartridges? We believe it is. The Magnum offers excellent performance in a relatively compact package that the big-bore revolvers cannot match for speed and packing ability. The Magnum is superior to the 38 Special, no matter how hot the Special is loaded. In the May 2012 issue, we looked at the 357 Magnum for animal defense and also have looked at the 9mm versus the 357 Magnum. In this report, we are looking at the 357 Magnum solely as a personal-defense cartridge and letting the Magnum stand on its own.

There are several concerns in choosing the 357 Magnum for personal defense. One of our raters has a great deal of police experience. He noted that the 22 LR, as an example, was a proven, though under-regarded, self-defense round when fired from a rifle largely because of the ease with which accuracy was obtained. From a pistol, the results are often dismal, so the shorter-barrel, lighter revolvers might also produce poor results. Another concern is muzzle blast. The concussion inside a home could be severe, the muzzle blast is tremendous in dim light, and sometimes the flash causes night blindness. The Magnum might literally leave you deaf and dumb. However, some modern loads are especially treated to create only light muzzle flash, and as a result, they are much better suited to personal defense. If you choose a heavy hunting load and fire it in a 4-inch barrel, you will probably experience excess muzzle blast. If you use the 110-grain Cor-Bon personal-defense load, you will not experience this excess muzzle blast. The Buffalo Bore 125-grain Tactical load is another excellent choice, carefully tailored to personal defense.

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